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The last thing on my mind was what to do with my car. Well, our car, the one you helped me buy when it became obvious that if we wanted to live together, we would have to move out of Metro range; the one you tearfully declared mine when we found ourselves divvying up our combined household two years later.

     So, your text came out of the blue, when I was knee-deep in packing paper and cardboard. “I can keep you on my car insurance until July, if you want, Love.” 

     Insurance. Right.

     “That would be so great, if you really don’t mind,” I texted back. “It’s going to be an expensive February. But what company? I should call and make sure it’s all okay.”

*                         *                         *

“Thanks for the generous offer, Love,” I texted again a few minutes later, “but they said if we aren’t living together, and I’m the one keeping the car, I should get my own policy.” 

     “K,” you typed back. “What a pain! Sorry for that, Love. Let me know, and I will take you off mine.”

     Shouldn’t we stop calling each other Love? I wondered, swallowing around the ache in my throat. But it was what we had called each other for four years—almost from the very beginning. Remember how uneasy you were when I started saying it two weeks after we met? “It’s much too soon,” you said. “It worries me—I feel obligated.” And I told you, “This has nothing to do with obligation. We feel what we feel.” It took you all of one more week to start saying it, too.

     Leaving it off now seemed wrong. Punitive, even.

     I gave the insurance company my new address with a burble of excitement at the prospect of living just around the corner from the street I had left two years earlier, when I moved in with you. I would once again be able to walk to the four theaters in my neighborhood, to Busboys and Poets café for the weekly spoken word poetry open mic, to the post office and the pharmacy and my wonderful neighborhood grocery. I envisioned myself ambling to these old haunts as we had done so many times in the afterglow of our weekend lovemaking. 

     There was a great deal of that at the beginning, this uncontainable passion that kept taking us by surprise, since we were both nearing fifty. Sometimes we barely left my bed all day. And there were those moments, in between, of lying together in pools of afternoon sun, wound together like a couple of old vines. We would fall into each other’s eyes, offer up all our old sorrows to one another in whispers. Then the heat would rise again. Late in the day, we would leave my apartment and go walking, hands clasped, exchanging gleeful smiles at finally being one of those couples we both used to envy. 

     I had to shake my head like a wet dog to clear the image. 

     I was soothed to receive my proof of insurance by email a short ten minutes later—like texting, the immediacy of electronic mail delivery appeals fundamentally to my impatient nature—along with a reminder that I had sixty days to transfer my title from Maryland to DC. Plenty of time.

     Meanwhile, I realized, I would have to get a temporary residential parking pass so I could park legally on the street in DC after my move. Temporary street parking passes could be obtained at local police headquarters, I read on the DMV website, glad for another chore to add to my list. The flurry of activity necessitated by this move was proving most helpful in crowding out those pesky voices of doubt. Are you insane? You’ll never find anyone as kind and loving again. 

     I called the station in my new-old precinct and asked what I would need: signed lease, proof of insurance, ID, tag number. 

     “It’ll have to be renewed every two weeks until you get your title transferred, Ma’am.” 

     No sweat. I could walk there from my new place, too. DC license, I added to my list. Transfer title.

*                         *                         *

Our first date—a drink at Bar Dupont that turned into a three-hour conversation—was like a catalogue of all the important ways we were different. Remember? 

     “I’m excited to finally be living in a city again,” I said. “That’s where I started out, when I was a kid in Zurich—but it seems like I’ve been stuck in the suburbs ever since.”

     “You don’t like the suburbs?” you asked in your gentle, unjudgmental voice.

     “Well, I really love the pulse of the city. I guess you could say I’m battery-powered by human energy,” I said, cringing when I realized I’d just quoted my own OK Cupid profile. “I love to be around people. With my four kids so close in age, my house used to be full all the time. And now, since I’m a new empty nester in a new town, my place feels way too quiet.” 

     “Things have been quiet around my place, too, since my younger daughter went off to college. She just graduated. But I’ve been enjoying it quite a lot.” 

     “It must be really quiet around your way—Greenbelt is pretty far out there,” I said.

You smiled, but your eyes stayed serious. “It’s not that far. And I like that I can bike to work in fifteen minutes. Anyway, I’ve lived there most of my life. I like the small-town feel of it, the fact that there are people there I’ve known for decades.”

     “I can’t imagine what that’s like—I’ve moved around so much.” I paused. “But you do travel, right? Especially now that your kids are grown?”

     “Well, not really, no. I haven’t been out of the country since I was a teenager. I wanted my kids to travel, but after that there wasn’t anything left over. So glad those last college payments are done!”

     “Oh, I hear you, but—don’t you get restless? Last year I went to meet my younger daughter in Barcelona, and it was so beautiful! The sea and the city, the food, and the art—Picasso! Miro! I’ve been paying that trip off all year, but it was so worth it. I’ve never been to Spain before.”

     You told me you and your ex-wife had confined yourselves to camping and hiking trips, and I said I wasn’t much of a camper, though I had tried, for my ex-husband’s sake. We talked a bit about our twenty-plus year marriages. You said yours died from a thousand tiny cuts, and I told you it was all the unsaid things that killed mine. My ex-husband saw every heated discussion as a frontal assault.

     “I’m pretty conflict-averse myself,” you said. “Kind of an ostrich, actually.” 

     “Oh! I’m just the opposite. I tend to turn the spotlight on anything I think isn’t working well—even myself. Especially myself.”

     I couldn’t account for my desire to reach my hand across the table and hook my index finger around yours. Even setting aside all those differences, I just didn’t think I was attracted to you. At the end of the evening, I asked you whether you thought we should see each other again. 

     Remember what you said?

     “Well…your energy scares me a little. But yes. I think there’s something here we should explore.”

     I wasn’t convinced until you kissed me goodnight at the top of the Metro escalator. Then we started exploring and couldn’t stop. 

     Our chemistry was off the charts. And the affection! I never thought I would meet someone who wanted to be touched as much as I do. I used to lie awake after you fell asleep, amazed at how attuned you were to my every movement—if I so much as grazed your hand, you would squeeze mine—even when you were clearly unconscious. It’s an interesting dance, being in a relationship with another people-pleaser. Sometimes I think we were too careful with each other. But that was later. In the beginning, there was so much physical warmth when we were together, and in between, those long, thoughtful emails—and always, the wordplay. I will never forget that first text you sent me: “Hershey’s Kisses at the office, but they don’t compare to Ruthie kisses.” I read it when I was standing in line at my grocery store, grinning like an idiot.

     We were wildly, breathlessly in love that first year, weren’t we? We had so much we wanted to give, had been waiting so long to give. Our differences, as often as we fretted about them, just didn’t compare. By the end of the second year, after our trip to Italy—despite the months it took me to talk you into it, and your spikes of agitation when we were there—we thought we were sure. Well, I thought I was, anyway. I told myself what mattered was your ability to express wonder at the beauty around us, to glory in the food and the wine and the people, never mind your discomfort. We brought back that gorgeous red and turquoise Majolica pasta bowl—and we started making plans.

     If I’m being honest, I didn’t let myself see how much happier you would have been staying put, didn’t really believe you needed all that time alone. We adored each other. You told me so—you said you trusted it would work itself out. 

     So, I jumped into high gear. In the scheme of things, I assumed the city mouse/country mouse problem would be an easy one to tackle. I searched compulsively to find us the right place to live, where you could still be within biking distance to work, and where I could still easily be part of the urban life I had finally reclaimed. 

     But three moves later, we were forced to admit there was no such place. The harder we tried, the more we both contracted away from the things we cared about. You weren’t going hiking any more, too exhausted after your hour-long bike rides home. And I wasn’t going into the city on weekends as I had promised myself. I was too wiped out from a week of work to take the Metro in. Why was it that that one problem seemed to inflate all our other differences until the balance of our teetering scale tipped over? 

     It seemed right and sensible, given our marital histories, to let the relationship go before it deteriorated any further. We were not going to be caught in the trap of needing each other to change. My excitement about re-reclaiming my city life generated enough adrenaline to carry me past the initial shock of our decision, past the waves of exhaustion that assailed me at the thought of moving yet again, past the fear of growing old alone that made my heart shrink every night when I got into bed and you weren’t there to throw your muscled leg over my soft one and murmur, “Mmm. You feel good to me.”

*                         *                         *

Once I had received the first pieces of new mail I could use for proof of residence, I pulled together all my paperwork in a fat Manila envelope and went to the District of Columbia DMV to change my registration.

     “First you’ll need to get your DC driver’s license—and then you’ll need to transfer your car title from Maryland, Ma’am,” said the friendlier-than-expected DMV official.

     “But I have the title right here,” I said, pulling out a legal-looking blue document with a bona fide watermark and the words MARYLAND CERTIFICATE OF TITLE across the top. I had been surprised to find it among the auto paperwork, since I hadn’t nearly paid off the loan.

     “Well, no, Ma’am, this is only half the title,” she said, smiling. 

     She must go through this rigmarole all day long, I thought. I resisted the urge to waste her time telling her not to call me “ma’am,” though it always made me feel a hundred years old. 

     “The other half is still being held by—” she squinted down at the title certificate, “—National Motors Finance, who have your loan. Just fill out that form—” she indicated a tray to her left on an adjacent counter, “and fax it to them, and they’ll send us the rest of your title. If you do it before you leave today, we can even fax it for you.”

     “Oh! That would be great,” I said. 

     You were the one who always faxed things for me because I didn’t have a fax machine at home or work. 

     When I was done, she took the form from me, still smiling, and said, “Now you can get your DC license taken care of, which you’ll need to transfer the title, too. And after that, come back for your fax confirmation. But wait—who is this?” She pointed at your name on the loan papers. “A co-owner?”

     “Oh, that’s—we used to be—he’s my…” I sighed. ”Yes, he’s the co-owner of the vehicle.”

     I had been about to say “my ex” but it sounds so harsh, so … angry. We’re not angry at each other, are we? 

     And that title—my ex—should surely be reserved for our respective former spouses. They each had earned the right to be an ex. But our four years together were nothing like that. We loved each other wholeheartedly, despite our fears, our differences. Didn’t we? 

     I remember the first time the scales seemed to lurch away from us and toward everything we didn’t share. It was when I talked you into leaving Greenbelt and renting that big house in Takoma Park. You broke down and cried when you looked out at your garden, and my heart twisted with guilt. Was I asking too much of you, to leave your tiny, dark townhouse where I had spent the last few months feeling like I couldn’t breathe? To venture a few miles down the road with me, into a new life together?

     “Look how gorgeous this front porch is, with this swing. We can sit on it every evening like we’re courting! And the clawfoot tub in our bathroom,” I rhapsodized in the new place, at least twice as big as your place. “And there’s lots of room for a garden. Look at all the light!”

     “I know, but I already had a garden. And it’s just …”

     “What? Can’t you see the beauty? The possibilities?”

     “It feels too big. It’s too much.”

     “Too much—money?”

     “Well, that too. But I’m just used to … smaller spaces.”

     I couldn’t hide my frustration, my resentment. I had tried so hard to find something that was right for us both. But after that, you lost heart for a long time. It was as if the change itself, the very thing that I found so exhilarating and full of wonder, had sapped you of your life force.

     “… has to sign the paperwork.” I realized that the kind DMV lady was still speaking to me.

     “I’m so sorry, could you repeat that?”

     “I said, you’ll need to get him to sign this,” she said, handing me a form headed with the words CERTIFICATE OF TITLE/TEMPORARY REGISTRATION AND TAG APPLICATION, “and he’ll have to write you a letter of permission to transfer the title from Maryland, too. Plus, you’ll need a copy of his driver’s license, front and back. Okay?”

     I nodded silently, trying to scribble it all down, sure that the sudden blurring of my vision was only exhaustion.

     But I was already imagining the meeting with you. It would be a good time to give you back the photos of your kids that I found among mine when I was unpacking, along with your thin metal spatula with the 1970s floral plastic handle that you must have missed when you sorted out your kitchen stuff.

     I got my DC license without a hitch, and even remembered to go back and get my fax confirmation.

     I smiled hugely at My Lady of the DMV. “You’ve been awesome, really.”

     “It’s just my job,” she said.

     “And you do it well!” I said, still smiling, my face feeling a bit strange. 

     I do love it when people do what they’re supposed to willingly, instead of acting as if I forced them into this position and whatever I’m asking for is worse than root canal. It’s another one of the things you and I always loved about each other: we both know the importance of being rock solid reliable.

     I’m sorry that my heart crumbled into bits when we did the paperwork/spatula exchange. You just looked so sweet there in the parking lot of your favorite diner, with your spring haircut and freshly shaved, boyish face. I was always so happy to see your face after you scraped off your winter beard. And your ocean eyes, at their most visible right after your spring buzz-cut. I kissed you without thinking and took your hand to walk inside for lunch. When it hit me that neither of those things was the right thing to do any more, I just fell apart. I forgot about National Motors Finance for a while.

     You were as patient as ever while I cried all through the hamburgers. You told me you were doing okay, thinking hard about what you really want from your life, trying to figure out why it’s so hard for you to make changes, but enjoying your reclaimed garden and relishing the short bike ride to work. 

     “That must be nice,” I hiccupped, and blew my nose. “Ugh, I’m sorry. I really love being back in the U Street neighborhood, too. I was at Busboys and Poets just last night for the Spoken Word open mic! So good. I don’t know what my problem is.”

     You put your hand over mine and squeezed. “This isn’t easy for either of us, Love.”

     I shook my head. “No,” I whispered, leaning into the contact. 

     I almost forgot to pull out the letter I’d drafted for you to sign with the other paperwork, to which you added the photocopy of your license that you brought. Rock solid reliable. I gave you two blank extra copies of the title certificate form, which you signed without complaining. 

     “Just in case I fuck it up,” I said, “I can fill out another one, and I won’t have to bother you again.”

     “It’s no bother,” you said. “I mean it. Whatever you need. I like seeing you.”

     “I like seeing you, too. But …” I blew my nose again, “this is hard. I mean, what are we now?”

     “I don’t know, Love. Do we need to have the answer to that?”

     I shook my head, but inside me, a voice said, Yes! I have no title for you. When I mention you to someone I’ve just met, what do I call you? How do I even think of you now? 

     “Good. We can just let it be … whatever it is. Let some more time go by. Meanwhile, don’t get my letter wet, okay?” you said, smiling gently as you wiped away my tears.

     Over the next weeks, I sleepwalked to work, to the grocery store, to the corner café for more open mics. I checked the DC DMV from time to time—they have a handy website where you can enter your title number and VIN, and they will tell you if they’ve received your transfer. 

     Not yet. 

     Not yet. 

     Not yet. 

     As time went on, I missed you more instead of less. But you seemed to be feeling a bit steadier. “Heading out for ultimate frisbee party,” you texted when I checked in. Or, “Going to visit the fam in New Hampshire.” You stopped sending me goodnight texts, so I forced myself not to text you at bedtime, either. I didn’t want to make it harder for you.

*                         *                         *

In the midst of cooking for the Passover Seder at my daughter’s place in Boston, I was too happy to see your name after a five-day silence, the longest one we had managed yet. “Hey, Love, just checking in. Everything okay?” 

     I was smiling like a new lover until I read the rest of the message. 

     “… I just got a letter from the Maryland DMV saying you’re in breach of insurance and they’re going to suspend your registration if you don’t comply by midnight tonight. Is this a glitch?”

     “WHAT??? That doesn’t make sense,” I fired back, my thumbs flying. “I got my DC insurance weeks ago, before I even moved. Remember?”

     “I do. And the title transfer went through?”

     “Umm … no … I still haven’t heard from NMF about it.”

     “I think you probably need to get in touch with them, no?”

     “SHIT, you’re right,” I texted back. Actually, it auto-corrected to “SHOT” and I had to correct it back, over and over again. Shit-shot-shit-shot-shit-shot-SHIT. I’m not sure it was worth it, but I dislike the way my phone only lets me swear when I don’t need to, like some sanctimonious yoga teacher. 

     “I wasn’t thinking,” I typed. “Sorry for the mess. Will get back to you.”

     I Googled the number for National Motors Finance, popped in my headphones, and caramelized onions for the Vidalia onion jam we would be spreading on the roast chicken, trying to tune out the sputtering canned music without missing the moment when an actual human voice came on the line.


     “Oh! Yes! Hi, Brittany.” I turned off the stove and stepped through the slider to the deck so I could focus. I explained my situation calmly and concisely, wrapping up with, “so, I was waiting to hear from you.”

     I fully expected her to tell me that yes, they should have contacted me, and they should have sent the title, that it was all a clerical error. What was it we used to say? Denial. It’s not just a river in Egypt.

     “No, Ma’am. You needed to call us to confirm that we received the request.”

     “Oh—please don’t call me Ma’am. I’m just Ruthie. And I have the fax confirmation from the DC DMV, so I know you received the request.”

     “Yes, Ma’am, we did, back on March 12, but there was a discrepancy with your address, so it was placed on hold.”

     “Right. I moved to DC, to a new address! That’s why I need to transfer my title. But I didn’t receive an email or a phone call about a discrepancy until today … And even then, it didn’t come to me, it came to my, to my, ummm …”

     I could hear my voice getting higher and shriller. But I knew it would take honey, not vinegar, to get what I needed. There was silence on the other line.

     “Why didn’t anyone call me in all these weeks?” I said, in my best imitation of reasonable.

     “I’m sorry, Ma’am. But we can’t make calls from here. We can only receive them.”

     “You—you can’t make calls from the Call Center?”

     “No, Ma’am.”

     “I don’t even know what to say to that. The point is, what can I do now, to solve my problem?”

     “First, we need to fix the discrepancy. What is your current address, Ma’am?”

     I told her, and again urged her to use my name.

     “We can’t do that, Ma’am. It’s against policy, and these calls are recorded. But we can process your request now. It will take four to six weeks—”

     “What?! No! I can’t wait that long. And what if there’s some other problem? I mean, I only knew to call you today because my partn … they emailed the … uh … the message went to my …”

     “I’m sorry, Ma’am. There’s nothing I can do about that.”

     “But there must be some way to expedite my request. Or to stop the clock on this suspension?”

     “Only a manager can do that. Transferring you now. Thank you for calling National Motors Finance and have a nice day.”

     She was gone before I’d even had a chance to say thank you. To my shock, the call didn’t disconnect, but went straight through. Oh, Brittany. If only they were all like you.

     “This is Wayne. How can I help you?”

     “I sincerely hope you can help me.” I explained the whole situation again. 

     “The address change is already in the system, Ma’am. So, we can put in the request now, and it will take four to six weeks to process.”

     “But, no! Haven’t you heard anything I said?”


     “I mean, well, if the DMV suspends my registration, I won’t be able to drive my car. Which means I won’t be able to go to work, which is now in Maryland, because I thought I would be living with … I thought we’d—Look! I need someone to let them know this is not my fault. I did everything I was supposed to do.”

     “Well, we can’t do that, but we can expedite the request by sending an email to the title processing department. It will only take them forty-eight hours to process my email.”

     “But that will already be too late, Wayne!”

     “I’m sorry. That’s all I can do.”

     “But…but you’re a manager! Can’t you just call them and explain the situation?”

     “No, Ma’am. I can’t do that.”

     “Why not??”

     “We can’t make outgoing calls from the Call Center, Ma’am.”

     “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! What do you mean, you can’t make calls?” I heard myself yell. “Are you working in a locked vault?”


     I could feel a hot flash coming on. 

     My apron-clad daughter stuck her head out the screen door and mouthed, Are you okay? I gave her a pointless headshake-nod and mouthed back I’m fighting for what I need. She answered my grimace with a Mona Lisa smile and went back into the kitchen. Normally, I’m proud of how I model self-empowerment for my kids, especially the girls. Always ask for what you want, I tell them. Fight for what you need. All four kids are grown now, but that just makes it all the more important.

     You used to tell me how much you admired my willingness to ask for what I want. Remember? But I guess the paradigm falls apart a bit when there’s no way I can get it.

     “There’s no need to shout, Ma’am.” Wayne’s voice was frosty. “I’ve told you everything I know. Your title transfer request will be placed in the queue to be processed,” he said. “Thank you for calling National Motors F—”

     I hung up on him and stamped my foot. Then I texted you back. 

     “No dice. NMF dropped the ball. Or I dropped the ball I didn’t even know I was holding. Either way, will have to deal with it after the Seder. Will have to rent a ducking car next week.”

I typed “fucking,” of course, but my phone just couldn’t let it be.

     “Oh, no! Sorry, Love. What a pain. I’m sure you will figure it out. Try to enjoy your Seder!”

     I nodded, the words blurring as I read them. I meant to send back an equally chipper message. But sometimes your kindness just kills me.

     I set a reminder for Monday to call the Maryland DMV (as if I could forget! Still, there was no use taking chances) and went inside to finish catering my family’s annual exodus from slavery to freedom.

*                         *                         *

On Monday, I started deep breathing before I even placed a call. When I reached the Maryland DMV, they told me that my registration was indeed suspended, and this meant I could not legally drive my car until the problem was resolved. 

     “Or rather, you can drive it, but if you get stopped, they’ll have to impound the car,” said the woman on the other line, whose name I didn’t catch. She didn’t mince words. “The best thing would be to try to expedite your request with National Motors Finance.” 

     “Oh, yes, I know,” I said. “I’ve been trying, believe me.” You would have been proud. I kept my cool, though I knew this meant all kinds of mess.

     Before calling NMF back to see if the “please expedite” email had been sent, I took a minute to try to decide on a label for you, so I wouldn’t be caught sputtering again: 

     – Co-owner who does not live with me anymore (unnecessary detail)

     – Former partner who is primary on the title (ugh)

     – “Friend” who helped me buy the car???? (too soon)

     Armed with my weak list, I made the call and immediately asked for the title department.  I reached Candy, who told me something I did not expect to hear.

     “Your request is already in the system, and it’s due to be processed by the end of the day.”

     “Really? But—that’s wonderful! Are you, are you sure?”

     “Yes, Ma’am. Once it’s flagged for transfer, the title goes out right away.”

     “I’m, uh, so glad,” I said, tempted to confirm once more but not willing to risk her ire.

     “Is there anything else you need, Ma’am?”

     “No, no, Candy, thanks, that’s all I need from you,” I said, feeling buoyant. 

     I so wanted to text you with this update, but instead I took a page from your book and practiced restraint. I wanted to be able to report an unequivocal win—and this seemed too good to be true. 

     By the next morning, I had decided it was too good to be true. So, I called NMF back and got Gertrude. I could tell from her voice that she was all business.

     “No, Ma’am, I don’t see any such request in the system. When was it sent?”

     “It…you what? It was sent on Friday.”

     “Well, it’s only Tuesday now. It can take four to six weeks to be—”

     “I know, Gertrude. Trust me, I know. But you see, Wayne, the manager I spoke to on Friday, sent an email request for it to be expedited. And Candy, who I spoke with just yesterday, she said it was already being processed.”

     “Well, I don’t see it here.”

     “How is that possible?”

     “I don’t know, Ma’am. I suggest you try back in a few days, and—”

     I hung up on Gertrude before she even finished her sentence. It seemed preferable to cursing her out, which I knew I was on the verge of doing. 

     Instead, I texted you again.

     “Kafkaesque problems with NMF. I suspect I will be renting a car for a while.”

     “:(((” you typed back. 

     I love how you still forego emojis in favor of the older emoticons. And how your genuine sympathy comes through in those multiple frown faces. 

     After a wretched night’s sleep, I couldn’t face another call to National Motors Finance. I took a break for the day, but I didn’t sleep well the next night either. I thought I might not ever call them again. It was bad for my health. I would just have to wait and hope it worked out. Patience was never my best event, but since it’s an Olympic sport for you, I thought I’d have learned a thing or two during our time together.

     Only, that strategy didn’t serve me so well with us, did it? I tried to be patient. I really did. Weeks went by when you rolled away from me in your sleep instead of reaching for my hand. Weeks, then months, when there was no sex at all. How many times did I ask you what was wrong, if it had to do with us, with me? But you just kept denying it. When it had been three months, and then four, I knew we were done. In the end, I wasn’t surprised to read the letter you handed me with your eyes averted—the one that you’d been saving for who knew how long, folded up in your dresser drawer—carefully enumerating all the reasons we weren’t going to work. 

     My sweet ostrich. How long would you have waited if I didn’t keep coming back to the subject, digging away at the massive splinter with my verbal tweezers, figuring it just had to feel better afterward? I could sense the chasm yawning between us. I saw how hard you had to work just to talk to me at dinner. It was unbearable.

     I kept thinking about how it was just after we met, when we would move our chairs right to the corners of the table so we could hold hands with one hand each while we ate with the other, our knees brushing, our voices low. We would talk and talk about everything—your work, my search for work, your sad marriage and mine, what books had affected us profoundly, our weird childhoods and all the scars they had left—but underneath it all, there was this thrumming, thrilling current that got stronger and stronger until we couldn’t wait one more minute and we would rush into my little bedroom and fling ourselves at each other. I’ve never felt more alive. 

     I thought I was maintaining admirable restraint in the wake of your dear frowny faces, but after seventy-two hours, I couldn’t stop myself. 

     “I miss when we were in love,” I texted.

     Right away, you typed back, “Do you mean how we were at the beginning? Because I’m still in love with you.” 

     I stopped breathing for a minute, waiting for you to explain. But there were no little dots wavering back and forth on my phone screen.

     “But what does that even MEAN, now?” I typed.

     Three dots. I held my breath again.

     “It means that when something good happens, you’re still the first person I want to tell. And when I’m upset, or something goes wrong, it’s you I want to talk to.”

     “And does it help?”


     “I feel the same way, even since you moved out. Especially since. But if that’s true, then why—” 

     My eyes blurred over. I’m always crying when we text. It’s like a Pavlovian response by now. I had to stop typing—I couldn’t see—but I was pretty much done anyway, so I just pressed SEND.

     “You know why. We both do.”

     “Tell me again?”

     Three dots, wavering back and forth for an eternity while I dripped a veritable lake of tears. I know you were the athlete in this duo, but your thumbs haven’t gotten the memo, Love.

     “Because the problems are still the problems,” I read in the blue cloud on my screen with a shuddering sigh.  “Because we don’t know where to live together and be happy. I need to be outside, to do things with my hands. You need to be in the city, surrounded by people, to feel alive. Because you need to hash everything out and I need to be quiet and think. Because you just leap and trust that the net will appear, and I want a written guarantee from the net company. Or worse, I don’t ever leap at all. It’s the same things it’s always been. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love each other.”

     I typed back, “Why are we so stupid?” 

     “I don’t know, Love. I think we just want what we want. We’ve bent over backwards to compromise. We both know what it feels like when you do that for years and it doesn’t work. We’re exhausted. We probably just need more time to let go. Is that still okay?”

     “Of course,” I texted automatically. 

     Was it still okay? 

     There was no use saying again that I just needed to know what to call you now, what your title would be in my life. I knew it didn’t matter, really. You don’t torment yourself over these sorts of things like I do, even if we both want desperately to please. 

     Reading over what you just wrote, I wondered if being two pleasers was what killed us. No matter how much love there is, I couldn’t imagine a lifetime of living in that sad little town that feels like home to you. I mean, I just got my city life back after decades of trailing a man through half a dozen suburbs. And I was certain that you’d never get used to my way of working through problems. Why should you have to? But we just couldn’t live with that contradiction, wanting to give each other everything without giving anything up. It broke us.
     I wished you happy dreams, and you wrote, “Good night, sweet Ruthie.”

     The bed was enormous that night. I felt like a speck.

     I woke up with the sun and lay there, gazing at the square of perfectly blue sky outside my window. I’m always amazed at the way hope returns for me at the start of the day. I waited as long as I could before reaching for my phone and scrolling back through your texts again. I let myself reread the words I’m still in love with you as many times as I wanted. 

     I took my coffee out to the balcony and watched the city walk by. Then I was ready to call the Maryland DMV one more time. After I went through the whole rigmarole again with Denise, I finished with, “I just wanted to see if there’s some other angle that I’m missing.”

     “But I see here that the suspension on your registration has been lifted,” she said, her keyboard clicking and then falling silent.

     “What? Are you sure?” 

     “Yes, Ma’am. It was lifted twenty-four hours after it was placed.”

     “Are you actually kidding me now?” 

     “No, Ma’am,” she said, her amusement traveling down the line. “Your proof of insurance was accepted, and they lifted the hold.” 

     “But, but why didn’t anyone let me know?” 

     “A letter was mailed to the primary owner in …” her keyboard clicked again, “Greenbelt, Maryland.”

     “Right. Of course. I’m sure my … my friend will let me know when it arrives.” I let the weight of that word settle for a minute, out there in the space around me. “But—you’re saying I can drive my car? It won’t get impounded. You’re positive, Denise?”

     “Yes, Ma’am. You’re all set. Of course, you still need to register the car in DC.”

     “Oh, I know. Thank you, Denise, so much. I mean, you have no idea.”

     “You’re welcome. Glad I could help.” There was laughter in her voice. Actual mirth. 

     When I hung up, I hardly knew what to do with myself. There was a five-year-old voice in my head shouting,
I win! And a five-thousand-year-old voice, whispering, now what? 

     I pulled together all the notes, scraps of paper, forms, fax confirmations, and notarized documents that had made their home on my kitchen table (the one I don’t sit at anymore, now that you’re not there kitty-corner, holding my hand) and placed them in a clean file folder.

     Shouldn’t I send you an update, I wondered, in case you were worrying?

     Silly. Why would you be worrying? This was my problem, not yours. 

     I set the folder in its place in the little wooden file cabinet (the one that used to belong to you, that you let me keep just because I liked it), where it would be safe until I needed it to register the car. 

     I put my phone face down on the sofa and sat at my desk to write. But it was pointless. All I could think about was telling you. 

     I picked up my phone and looked back at the part of last night’s thread where you said, We probably just need more time to let go. Is that still okay?

It’s still okay with me, I thought. Then I texted you the news and waited for your reconstructed smiley face to appear on my screen.


Rachel Miranda is the managing editor of Plamen Press, a small publisher of translated Eastern and Central European literature, and a freelance editor specialising in academic and cultural works. She holds a BA in European Cultural Studies from Brandeis University and an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. Rachel was born in Zurich, Switzerland but has lived in the United States since she was eight, and recently moved to the New York City metro area. Her creative writing is published in Necessary Fiction, The Bennington Review, the anthology Seeking Its Own Level, and Unleash Lit. She has a personal essay upcoming with The PERCH Magazine at Yale University, and is currently at work on a novel about her immigrant experience and the persistence of antisemitism in post-Holocaust America.


Of the short story featured here, Rachel states:


‘This story portrays the yearning for a lost lover expressed in gestures, texts, and objects - the spasms of desire that continue, sometimes long after a couple has separated. In toggling between sorrow and humor, from the lingering intimacy of a dying romance to the Kafkaesque tragicomedy of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ bureaucracy, it also explores the longing for normalcy, the hope of settling into a new self that feels true.’

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